Lower Manhattan’s Classic Skyline Seen Aerially From Battery Park c. 1956
And What Became of It
Classic lower Manhattan skyline before the late 1950s transformation. Battery Park is in the foreground. (c.1956)
Every time I’m in Brooklyn and gaze across the East River at the lower Manhattan skyline I feel I’m looking at a city I don’t recognize.
It’s not because I’m old, but it might be because the buildings that have been going up since the late 1950s are cut from the same mold, glass sheathed pinnacles with no flourishes, adornments or personality.
For the first half of the twentieth century, when you came upon New York whether by ship, train or car and got your first glimpse of the skyline you knew you were coming into New York City.
For a native New Yorker coming upon New York today, you may as well be entering the architectural equivalent of the Mall of America, any-city USA. Examples sprout up everywhere of New York’s architectural monstrosities, ugly and tall for the sake of being tall.
Classic lower Manhattan skyline form Brooklyn waterfront in the 1930s. photo: Acme
Commercial Cable Building
The skyline of lower Manhattan had remained pretty much static from 1931 through 1957 Continue reading →
2 Historic Photos Show the Enduring Popularity of Coney Island
This is what Coney Island looked like in the 1930s:
Coney Island July 4, 1934
Million Turn Out At Coney Island
Here’s part of the 1,000,000 New Yorkers who visited Coney Island, a summer resort, on July 4 to get away from the heat of the city, as they disported on the beach, many of them shirtless. Credit line: Acme -7/4/34
Many of them shirtless, imagine that! Don’t you love the old news captions?
While Coney Island doesn’t get a million visitors a day any more, it still gets crowded during summertime. One thing you might notice: there are probably lifeguards present in their high perch chairs to watch over the throngs of swimmers, but I cannot see any in this photograph.
In this aerial view looking south upon lower Manhattan in the late 1920s, the first thing you notice is the concentration of skyscrapers in lower Manhattan contrasted to the low profile tenements in the foreground that make up part of the lower east side.
There are also an abundance of piers along the East River, most of which have now vanished. Looking at the harbor, a large number of boats are active in the bay and on the Hudson River. Continue reading →
Manhattan Looking North & West From Madison Square Garden Tower – 1893
This photograph taken by the firm of H.N. Tiemann shows the emerging profile of New York around 1893. The tallest structures visible are mostly steeples of the many churches that are spread throughout Manhattan.
We are looking north and west from 26th Street between Fourth and Madison Avenues from the tower of Madison Square Garden, designed by architectural giants McKim, Mead & White in 1890.
Besides churches, there are two buildings that are prominent in the photo. One was a former church, in the center lower portion of the image, the Scottish Rite Hall with the steeple tower at the corner of 29th Street and Madison Avenue. The building Continue reading →
This aerial photograph taken April 5, 1960 shows one of the boats of the Staten Island Ferry in motion while the other ferry boat is idle. The Whitehall or South Ferry terminal (originally named the Municipal Ferry Terminal) was built between 1908-1909 by architects Richard A. Walker and Charles Morris. The terminal was stripped to its steel skeleton and reconstructed in 1957.
Original ferry waiting room Architects’ and Builders’ Magazine November 1909
The Staten Island Ferry used this utilitarian structure until September 8, 1991, when a mysterious fire badly damaged the building. An interim terminal was set up in the lower portion of the terminal which operated for many years while plans for a new terminal were bandied about for years. Finally the new Whitehall Terminal was constructed and rededicated in 2005.
The 25 minute crossing to Staten Island offers one of the great bargain viewing sites of the city from the harbor: in essence, a cruise for free.
Pennsylvania Station seen at night seen from The New Yorker Hotel January 1941 – photo Underwood & Underwood
Every time you see photographs of New York’s old Pennsylvania Railroad Station you have to ask yourself how could this architectural masterpiece be knocked down and carted off piece by majestic piece to the landfill? The answer resided with the owners of the Pennsylvania Railroad and real estate developers who saw the station as a white elephant: filthy; declining train ridership; losing tons of money and impractical as a revenue generator. The land Penn Station sat upon was too valuable to let this monument to interstate travel remain in place. It would be redeveloped as office buildings and the fourth Madison Square Garden put in its place with the railroad station relegated to an unsightly subterranean labyrinth.
Soon after its destruction lasting from 1963 -1966, the city and New Yorkers began yearning for the old Penn Station. All New Yorkers today await a suitable replacement for the modern underground lair we now possess ignominiously called Penn Station.
Look at this panoramic view of Manhattan looking lit up to capacity in January 1941. Here is the original photo caption:
The electric glamor of New York by night shines out in this shot looking southeast from the roof of the Hotel New Yorker at 34th Street and 8th Avenue. Directly below is Pennsylvania Terminal, its glass roof aglow. Surrounding it are gleaming office buildings and hotels. No more thrilling metropolitan scene could be recommended to the thousands who arrive at this station daily. The beacon-like light in the background surmounts the Metropolitan Life Building (23rd Street Madison Avenue). credit: Underwood & Underwood, January 26, 1941
11 months later this photographic view would not be possible because America had entered World War II. The mandatory brownouts (dimming of all lights at night) in American cities blotted out the spectacle of light and cast a protective veil over New York City that would not be lifted until the conclusion of the war in 1945.
editor’s note; We have changed the title of this story to Old New York in Photos 52-A because someone forgot how to count – there were two number 52’s!
An Aerial View Of The 1939 World’s Fair Before It Opened – January 25, 1939
The Trylon (shown with scaffolding) and Perisphere feature prominently from this fantastic aerial view over Flushing Meadows in Queens, three months before the 1939 New York World’s Fair opened on April 30, 1939.
The World’s Fair was expected to cost $40 million to build and generate revenue of over $1 billion. It ended up costing over $150 million to build and ended in bankruptcy 18 months after it opened.
Though the Fair lost money, for anyone who attended, it was a marvelous and memorable experience. The World’s Fair pavilions and buildings held exhibits which demonstrated the possibilities of a utopian society where the future was filled with promise, hope and amazing technological innovations as the world emerged from the Great Depression.
Four months after the World’s Fair opened, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.
The caption for this Acme news photograph reads:
The Theme Center
This is how the Theme Center looked recently from a visiting American Airliner. Dominating the scene, as they will the Fair, are the Perisphere and Trylon. Removed scaffolding reveals they are well past the half-way mark. Although the various buildings shown seem widely divergent in architectural form, all conform with the latest theories of functional design. (Credit Line Acme Photographs – January, 25, 1939)